Two Thrillers from Sony Pictures
Black Water (February 25/08)
Infused with a distinctly minimalist sort of vibe, Black Water is an uneven yet sporadically tense thriller revolving around three friends (Diana Glenn's Grace, Maeve Dermody's Lee, and Andy Rodoreda's Andy) who find themselves terrorized by a vicious crocodile after embarking on a fishing trip within Australia's mangrove swamps. Directors David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki initially prove adept at creating a tense atmosphere without resorting to standard horror-movie cliches, as the pair wisely keep the killer croc off-camera for the majority of the movie's opening hour. The emphasis is instead placed on the central characters and their efforts at extricating themselves from an increasingly precarious situation, which - due to the surprisingly effective work from the three actors - turns out to be far more compelling than the relatively conventional third act. The inclusion of a seriously cringeworthy moment involving a broken finger notwithstanding, Black Water's final twenty minutes ultimately can't quite live up to the promise of that which preceded it - though the brisk running time does ensure that the movie never entirely wears out its welcome. It's subsequently worth noting that Black Water generally fares a whole lot better than the majority of its straight-to-video brethren, despite its thematic and structural similarities to the admittedly superior Open Water.
Deliberately paced and disastrously overlong, Gabriel is a handsomely shot yet otherwise ineffective effort that possesses few attributes designed to win over casual viewers. Filmmaker Shane Abbess has infused the proceedings with a relentlessly dark sensibility that quickly becomes oppressive, and it ultimately does seem clear that only those with a previously-established interest in this sort of thing will walk away from the movie satisfied. Set entirely within Purgatory, Gabriel follows the title archangel (Andy Whitfield) as he attempts to rid the shrouded-in-darkness city of its various nefarious elements - including a villainous celestial being named Sammael (Dwaine Stevenson) and his myriad of menacing henchmen. Abbess - along with co-screenwriter Matt Hylton Todd - admittedly does a nice job of setting things up and establishing the film's off-kilter world, and it's worth noting that the opening hour isn't quite as awful as one might've suspected (ie it's far from compelling yet strangely watchable). There reaches a point, however, at which it becomes increasingly difficult to care about any of this, with the overtly somber atmosphere certainly playing a key role in the movie's ultimate downfall. By the time the rain-drenched finale rolls around, it seems likely that even the most ardent fantasy-film-fan will have grown tired of Abbess' hyper-stylized shenanigans - ensuring that although the filmmaker may have been going for a Blade Runner/Dark City sort of vibe, the end result bears more in common with 2005's interminable, similarly-themed Constantine.